Time was when the CMO of Unilever was one of the two most powerful people in marketing alongside that of rival Procter & Gamble but that’s, arguably, no longer the case as both legacy FMCG businesses adjust to a radically different commercial world.
But Unilever’s new chief digital and marketing officer (interesting that digital is now seen as more important than marketing) Conny Braams (below) will still be a figure to reckon with, especially for those ad agencies trying to snaffle what’s left of its brand advertising budgets. Unilever’s UK TV ad spend, for instance, is reckoned to have fallen to about £70m, roughly what it spent on Persil alone ten years ago.
Unilever now has an in-house production deal with You and Mr Jones’ Oliver which has further eroded agency involvement.
Brahms, who succeeds 35 year high profile veteran Keith Weed, is Dutch, which may fuel speculation that CEO Alan Jope hasn’t given up on plans to focus the Anglo-Dutch business more on the Netherlands, something former CEO Paul Polman tried to do only to be confounded by a shareholder revolt.
Jope says of Braams: “As our new chief digital and marketing officer, her experience will be critical to the transformation of Unilever into a future-fit, fully digitised organisation at the leading edge of consumer marketing.”
On the face of it there’s only so much digitisation a company like Unilever, which makes lots of physical stuff, can instil. A bigger issue, perhaps, is sustainability, a key plank of the Polman and Weed years but an issue that still dogs Unilever, a big user of palm oil.
On the marketing front Unilever’s rush to digital has pushed traditional advertising to the sidelines but that has also meant fewer large-scale and distinctive brand campaigns, a key driver of its growth over the years. Jope seemed to recognise this in a way in one of his early pronouncements when he suggested that Unilever might hand all of its advertising to one holding company, a pretty bizarre notion given that they no longer have a monopoly on creative talent, if they ever did.
This seems to have been kicked into the long grass. But Unilever needs to get some of its traditional marketing mojo back.